A Guide to Age Equivalent Test Scores

Also known as mental age or test age, age equivalent test scores have been hotly debated upon by educators and psychologists. What does it mean, and what happens if a child’s score does not match his or her actual age?

The Difficulty of Establishing Criteria

Children that are born within a given six-month period are put in one group. A sample of test scores from each group will be chosen to represent this age group. The age equivalent score is determined by taking the mean test score of the group and using that as the point of comparison for each age group.

Some experts have expressed concerns about this. Test design and interpretation are very difficult and should consider factors such as a child’s test-taking ability, the context, content, and standard of error.  Age-equivalent tests do not show the nuances of mental ability in the way that an aptitude test would. Simply focusing on the age group is a bit lacking. It can cause confusion and distress among parents.

Interpretation of Results of Age Equivalent Scores

Do not panic if the result of your child’s test does not match their age.

If your 8-year-old child has a score of 7, it doesn’t mean that your child is underperforming. On the flip side, if your child’s score is 9, it doesn’t mean that they are smarter than the group. The test that your child took is designed for 8-year-old children, with test questions that are specific to their grade level, covering topics that have been discussed in their classes. If your child’s score is higher than their age level, do not assume that they could handle content for older children.

Grade Equivalent Test Scores

Similar to age-equivalent tests are grade-equivalent tests, which are given to determine whether a student can handle the content that is meant for their grade level. Two children from different grade levels can have the same score. If your second grader has the same score as a third-grader, it doesn’t mean that your child can handle the third-grade curriculum.   

Final Thoughts 

It’s normal for parents to get anxious about test scores and ranking, especially when their child is still young. Do keep in mind that the age-equivalent test score is but one of the many tests that can provide a picture of your child’s mental ability. Always be mindful that the nature and validity of age-equivalent tests are up for debate in the first place. If you want to understand test scores and the types of tests that could better show your child’s abilities and potential, please consult professionals.

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